Text: Joshua 22
Proposition: Misunderstanding happens but the godly response to it can save relationships and even lives.
Introduction: You’ve probably heard the saying about not upsetting the apple cart. In the 1700’s people used carts to take their produce to market. The roads were rough, muddy and with all kinds of pot holes which sometimes caused the cart to tip, spilling the produce all over the road. The image of apples being carefully balanced and then spilling out onto muddy roads became a well known idiom of speech. Maybe that’s because we all have the challenge of balancing things in our lives, especially relationships, time, priorities and resources. Maybe it’s also because at one time or another we’ve been the one that’s upset ‘the apple cart’, our road of good intentions had a few pot holes in it. It’s when the apples bounce off the cart and roll into the dirt that misunderstanding often occurs. You could even say that misunderstanding will be a certainty in our lives, we will either be the cause or the recipient of it many, many times. Today let’s look at the account of how soldiers who had fought together on the same side, comrades in arms, experienced this and how it almost led to war between them. Let’s look at the godly way to diffuse misunderstanding in Joshua 22.
I. Misunderstanding Can Occur Even When We Both Seek the Same Goals.
In the first nine verses Joshua is sending the men of the three tribes whose inheritance is east of the Jordan back to their families. They have been faithful comrades, they had left home and fought for the well being of the other peoples of Israel. Now Joshua is releasing them from service, giving them their share of the profits as it were and sending them home. Before he does this he reminds them one more time to make sure they hold true to their faith in God. Look at how he puts this in verses 5,6, “But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” He commands them to do three things in this order: 1. Hear the Word; 2. Love the Lord; 3.Walk Faithfully. This was the compass that Israel was to live by, it would guide them into a stronger relationship with God and it would strengthen their relationship with the other 10 tribes west of the Jordan. They had the same goals, they served the same God, they shared the same love and yet misunderstanding wasn’t far away.
II. Misunderstanding Doesn’t See the Intentions, It sees the Actions.
So the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh go down towards the Jordan River and just before they cross it they build this massive altar. The size of it was such that it would draw the attention of anyone who passed near it. Once it was built they then proceeded on across the Jordan, leaving this conspicuous marker. People do see it and soon the reports of this massive altar reach the other ten tribes. Their response is so sudden it surprises us, they are immediately ready to go to war against these their own brothers in arms. This misunderstanding escalates so quickly that all of what had been accomplished so far was at risk of being torn apart. What would destroy it was not so much the forces of Israelite against Israelite nor the Philistines or Canaanites who would be stirred up. It was their very real fear that God would judge them because of this altar down by the Jordan. An altar was only used for sacrifice, God had decreed that there should be only one altar and that it would in the Temple where the Levites would offer sacrifices for sin in the prescribed way. This altar violated what had been written in Leviticus 17:7,8 where it said if anyone offered sacrifices on an altar other than in the Tabernacle they were to be cut off from Israel. We know from reading this account that there was a huge misunderstanding here, the three tribes never meant to use the altar, it was only ever intended to be a memorial marker that was their intention. But misunderstanding doesn’t see the intention it only sees the action. It’s what happens next that sets for us an example of what reconciliation can look like. It’s like misunderstanding is an explosive bomb and it’s the diffusing of it that not only saves lives but prevents destruction. Look at how they diffused misunderstanding:
1. Diffusing Misunderstanding is Always a Risk. The people of Israel send Phinehas their high priest and the leaders from each of the ten tribes on the west side of the Jordan to travel down to the Jordan and then to cross over it and come to Gilead. Here these 11 men would speak to the leaders of the three tribes on the eastern side in a way that could cost them their lives and put at risk the whole stability of Israel. You never know how things will turn out but if it is what upholds the Word of the Lord, the Love of the Lord and their Walk of being Faithful, then risk is what it will take to begin to diffuse this misunderstanding.
2. Diffusing Misunderstanding Requires Transparency. By this I mean that your reasoning must be clear, your motivation pure, your intent loving. Phinehas knew too well what would happen if the eastern tribes began to sacrifice to the useless idols of the nations around them. He had come to know the swiftness of God’s judgment upon Israel personally. It was he who had taken a spear and put to death an Israelite man and a Midianite woman in order to stop God’s judgment on Israel for idolatry back in Numbers 25. So Phinehas makes the concerns of the western tribes as transparent as he can, he tries he help the eastern tribes see what the western tribes are deeply concerned about. He desperately wants them to know that the actions of the eastern tribes will reflect on the whole nation.
3. Diffusing Misunderstanding Will Require the Willingness to Sacrifice. Phinehas tells them in verse 19 that if the land they live in is so polluted with idol worship that they built this altar to withstand it, then the western tribes will create land for them amongst their own land for them. The intent of your action needs to be such that if necessary you would be willing to experience loss, you would sacrifice, in order for you both to move forward. The appeal is to move from sin or even the appearance of sin for the cost to all is too great, that’s why Phinehas mentions Achan’s name. It was a recent reminder of when they failed to take Ai because of Achans actions. The point is that Phinehas was willing to sacrifice in order to prevent the eastern tribes from being entangled in sin.
4. Diffusing Misunderstanding Will Mean Seeing Things From the Others Perspective. The Eastern tribes get it, they call on God as their witness that their intent was only for good and they see why the western tribes are upset. They even go to the point of saying that if this were the case they should be attacked and destroyed. “The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, He knows, and let Israel itself know; if it is in rebellion, or if in treachery against the LORD, do not save us this day.” They get it, they see what the issue is, they have a quick willingness to see things from the others perspective and it diffused the misunderstanding.
5. Diffusing Misunderstanding Seeks to Reveal the Purity of Intent. The eastern tribes finally get to say why they built the altar in the first place. Ironically it was so that the western tribes would not forget them, that their children in days to come would not exclude the eastern tribes from coming to the Tabernacle to offer sacrifice. Look at verse 29, “Therefore we said that it will be, when they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say, ‘Here is the replica of the altar of the LORD which our fathers made, though not for burnt offerings nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between you and us.” There it is, that was the reason why the altar was built in exaggerated size and made so conspicuous. It was meant to be a memorial marker not a functioning altar, there was purity of intent and when this is seen misunderstanding is diffused.
6. Diffusing Misunderstanding Requires an Ongoing Trust in Each Other. Phinehas and the other ten leaders hear the intent, the reasoning, they see the purity of heart in what was done and the misunderstanding is diffused. Their trust in the eastern tribes is restored and they return home. The tribes of Reuben and Gad and Manasseh are encouraged as well, to the point that they call the altar by the Jordan a new name, they call it ‘Witness’. The very object that was the center of misunderstanding became the memorial marker for how misunderstanding was diffused and a way to the Tabernacle was secured.
Misunderstanding, upsetting the apple cart, it can happen so quickly. It will require patience and grace and love and all these things we’ve talked about today. It will require the Holy Spirit to lead us past our sin nature and Jesus name to be our ‘Witness’ marker. Our access to Jesus is secured by the altar of the cross, this is the bond we have in Christ and to each other. Every time misunderstanding is diffused it’s the name of Jesus Christ that what will be proclaimed. He is our Witness.